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I am a convert to the charms of Rancho Gordo beans. They’re creamy and flavorful, don’t require soaking, and cook to perfection in under an hour. They’re even local. What’s not to love?

The price tag, I suppose. These buggers cost $6 a pound, while normal beans cost maybe $2, but usually more like $0.99. I don’t cook beans often, though, so it’s not a tough cost to justify, especially when a pound stretches over many meals.

flageolet

Beans have a special place in my past. When I first moved to Washington, DC after college to work for the government and non-profits, I didn’t have much money. It was years before I felt comfortable spending more than $20-$30 per week on groceries. I survived for several years eating a diet heavily dependent on beans, rice, cabbage, and sweet potatoes. Beans and tofu were my primary source of protein in those years, crafted in more permutations than I care to recall.

As I’ve grown my grown-up income and therefore my food budget, my shopping habits have diversified. I’ve relegated beans to “that protein in kale soup”, “a nice extra to throw on quick quesadillas”, or “the once a year bean dip batch”. This dish helps beans level up to sophistication, with the sweet tomato accent and spicy arugula playing off each other and the creamy beans. It’s a perfect fall dinner, at least here, where you can still find straggling tomatoes in the farmer’s markets even in early November.

roasted cherry tomatoes
ragout

flageolet bean ragout with roasted tomatoes, arugula, and sausage
Print
type: entree
author: saladfordinner.com
prep time: 30 mins
cook time: 30 mins
total time: 1 hour
serves: 4
Tender white beans simmered in olive oil with garlic and spring onion, then tossed with sweet roasted tomatoes, savory sausage, and spicy arugula.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup dried flageolet, navy, or cannelini beans (any white bean will do) or 2 15 oz. cans
  • 1/4 of a white onion, peeled
  • 1 carrot, chopped coarsely
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • salt
  • 2 spring onions or leeks
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, roasted (instructions below)
  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, optional
  • 1/4 lb arugula
Instructions
  1. Prepare the beans (if using dried beans): Cover beans with water, about an inch above where the beans stop in the pot. Add the onion, carrot, and thyme, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat, and simmer until beans are tender, anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your beans.
  2. Roast the tomatoes: Preheat oven to 375. Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and toss with 2-3 T olive oil, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp salt and ground black pepper. Arrange seed-side up on baking sheet, and put them in the oven for 30-40 minutes, until they are sweetly roasted.
  3. Cook the sausage: Remove the sausage from its casing and add to a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat with 1 T olive oil. Brown the sausage, breaking it up into smaller pieces as it cooks.
  4. Once sausage is mostly browned, turn the heat down to medium low, and add the sliced spring onions or leeks and remaining olive oil. After 3-4 minutes, add the garlic, and cook until onions or leeks are translucent.
  5. Add the beans and tomatoes, and stir to coat with olive oil. Simmer for several minutes longer.
  6. Remove pot from heat. Mix in the arugula.
  7. Serve warm with crusty bread.
Notes

If using normal dried beans, I like to soak them overnight before cooking. I used Rancho Gordo beans, which they say don’t require soaking (and they’re right!). They cook much faster, have a creamier texture, and are more delicious than most dried beans, but also have the price tag to prove it. Canned beans also work just fine if you don’t have the time to cook your own.

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The sun is setting before 7pm now, casting golden glows of Indian Summer over the fogless Twin Peaks. The past few weeks at the market and in the kitchen I’ve been desperately hanging on to the last fruits of summer: sweet corn, juicy heirloom tomatoes, and the final peaches and nectarines, no longer quite as sweet, and quickly molding in the warm, early autumn air that stuffs our kitchen. All of this adds up to more vegetable matter than we can reasonably eat in fresh form.

heirloom tomatoes

corn cob, pulped

It also means that in addition to fried and cheesed zucchini, we’ve eaten a lot of corn soup this summer. Or corn chowder, I suppose. See, it’s unclear what really distinguishes a chowder from a soup, especially when it comes to corn. I put cream or milk in other soups, but don’t call them chowders, and many corn chowder recipes seem not to call for the thickener that Wikipedia tells me is the mark of a chowder. What’s more confusing, Epicurious defines a chowder as “any thick, rich soup containing chunks of food,” but no one seems to have a recipe for any chowder other than corn or seafood.

corn chowder, variation 2

Corn chowder

I discovered this version of corn chowder last summer, when I picked up my cousin’s CSA box in the waning August light and found bounty of fingerling potatoes, fresh sweet corn, ripe heirloom tomatoes, and a bunch of basil.  What to do with all of this? Google, of course. Which led me to this New York Times recipe for corn chowder.

corn chowder with tomato, basil and lime

The original Times recipe called for much more corn than I had, and cherry tomatoes, not heirlooms. I’m sure it’s delicious their way as well. I’ve adapted it to fit a smaller amount of corn, different tomatoes, and to be a bit less fussy in ingredients. I’ve also made variations on this with a half-cup of cream and blending the soup base before adding half the corn, while leaving out the lime juice and basil, or adding an extra cup of zucchini to the mix, from all that surplus zucchini we had earlier in the summer. Corn soup is endlessly adaptable, but this is always my go-to flavor combination.

ingredients

  • 4 ears corn, shucked
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped finely
  • 3 cups water or broth (I use water with some extra salt to taste, but you can use broth if you prefer)
  • 1 pound waxy potatoes (red or Yukon Gold or fingerling are good), cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving (optional).

instructions

1. Cut the corn off the cobs (Simply Recipes details a clever way to do this using a bundt pan). Squeeze the pulp out of the remaining cobs by running  the back of your knife along the cob.

2. Heat the butter (or olive oil for vegans) in a heavy saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, and saute until translucent. Add garlic after several minutes, being careful not to burn it. Add the potatoes, and saute for 2-3 minutes.

3. Add water and reserved corn cobs to pot, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer, and leave for 15 minutes or so.

4. Add tomatoes and corn, and at this point, check to see if you’ll need more salt, and adjust accordingly. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes. Remove and discard cobs, and test for salt again. Turn off the heat, and add the basil and lime juice. Let soup cool for 10-15 minutes before serving. Serve with creme fraiche or sour cream.

variation

Add 1 cup shredded zucchini when you add the potatoes in the saute phase. Reserve half the corn kernels when adding corn to mixture. After removing the cobs and turning off the heat, and before adding basil and lime juice, puree the  mixture. I use a stick blender for this step, but if you don’t have one, carefully transfer the hot soup to a normal blender and do it there, then transfer back to the pot. Turn heat back on to low, and add 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half and the remaining corn kernels, and basil and lime juice. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then serve garnished with basil (leave out the sour cream on this one).

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Heidi Swanson, one of my Internet heroes, recently posted a recipe for Lillet Buttermilk Shakes and asked whether anyone had other Lillet suggestions. Here’s mine.

lillet, rocks, twist

Lillet also happens to be a favorite in our home. I usually drink it over ice, with a slice of orange. But ever since I had a Lillet-jito at the Front Porch several months ago, I’ve been obsessing about how to make delicious Lillet-jitos at home.

Usually, this involves fruit. Sometimes, I also throw in an herb. That’s how I arrived at this concoction. Well, that, and a two-pound container of blueberries, basil from my mother’s overgrown garden, and midweek thirst for a post-work, warm-day cocktail.
blueberries in glass

Blueberry Basil Lillet-jitos

Note: Fruit or herb can be varied. I’ve tried strawberries and mint, but I imagine any ripe berries and most summer herbs would work. For an extra boozy drink, add a splash of vodka at the end.

1/3 cup blueberries
3-4 leaves fresh basil (mint would work too)
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup Lillet
Splash of sparkling water

Muddle blueberries, basil, and sugar in glass. Smash the berries if you can (I used the wrong end of a wooden spoon for this). Add Lillet and mix with muddled fruit mixture. Add ice to fill the glass, then top off with sparkling water.

Proportions can be adjusted to taste.

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